Editor’s Note: This release was edited by Larry Lapka
DeCA Announces New Nutrition Program • FORT LEE
The Defense Commissary Agency’s (DeCA) Health and Wellness Team is looking to make the chore of quickly identifying nutrient-rich foods easier for its customers with the new Dietitian-Approved Thumb (DAT) program.
The original program, the Nutrition Guide Program, initially debuting in January 2017 with the tagline “We Did the Work for You,” featured color-coded shelf tags throughout the store to help customers easily spot products featuring one or more of five popular nutritional attributes, such as “low sodium,” “whole grain,” “no-added sugar,” “low fat” and “high fiber.”
Approximately 630 products were identified and tagged based on these key Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nutrient attributes.
In a comprehensive overhaul of the old program, DAT uses unique software conceived by DeCA’s Health and Wellness Team exclusively for commissary customers. This DeCA-built software has the ability to analyze and identify products in most of the commissary food categories based on up to 86 of the FDA-defined health attributes, not just six as in the previous program.
“The old NGP tagline ‘We Did The Work For You’ still applies but now delivers customers an easier, much more robust program, both in quality and quantity,” said Health and Wellness Program Manager Deborah Harris, MPH, RD, CDE (Masters of Public Health, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator).
“Right now, preparing meals at home is the norm and everyone is focused on what they are feeding their bodies,” she explained. “The new DAT program is a state-of-the-art resource to help our customers make the nutritious choices to maintain a balanced diet. And with DAT, those decisions have never been easier.”
THE NEW PROGRAM
The attributes analyzed vary by food category, but the agency said they will better identify dietitian-approved foods that limit added sugar, sodium and unhealthy fat while offering whole grains, healthy fats, fiber or lean protein.
“While the initial program provided information that would help our customers make better nutritional choices, it only covered a few attributes for a limited number of products,” Harris said. “The new program is much more robust, covering most of the food items sold in the stores.
“The program is highly anticipated by our Department of Defense (DoD) health and wellness stakeholders on the ground, who will use it to reinforce their health promotion efforts. This is a benefit they will not find in commercial grocery stores. Building a basket with mostly fresh produce, lean meats and eggs, and ‘Thumbs Up’ items along with a few indulgences and treats, will provide a diet with the beneficial nutrients your body needs without consuming too many empty calories.”
DELIVERING A NUTRITIONAL PUNCH
The products that emerge from this analysis, currently around 3,200 items, deliver a nutrition-rich punch for commissary customers and are marked on the shelves with a “Thumbs Up Dietitian-Approved” tag, replacing the limited attribute tag from the original program. This represents nearly 10 percent of all consumer-packaged goods in DeCA’s product portfolio.
Commissary customers can now quickly scan the shelves for products tagged with the ‘Thumbs Up’ DAT logo and, in choosing those, be assured they will be selecting high-nutrition-quality foods to incorporate into a healthy eating pattern. This program, Harris points out, also aligns very closely with DoD’s “Go for Green” nutrition initiative in military dining facilities.
Organic items are a popular go-to category in the commissaries, and Harris noted, “Although ‘organics’ is not a nutrition attribute, in the software to support DAT, we went the extra mile to be able to identify all items that qualify for USDA Organic,” Harris said. “We know that for many, choosing organic is part of lifestyle, and we at DeCA want to support them in this health and wellness goal, too. Patrons will notice new organic tags throughout commissaries also.”
Harris said that the “Thumbs Up Dietitian-Approved” products will be continually updated to ensure customers have as many options as possible to facilitate making good choices for a healthy diet.
“When this number is combined with our vast array of fresh produce and lean meat products, the case is made that we are the Department of Defense asset that is a jewel when it comes to accessing a plethora of nutritious food choices,” Harris said. “I have known this all along, and am elated that now we can show the great work we do to support optimal fueling in our military community.”
Edited by Larry Lapka